So what’s the real issue here?

“To sum up, by paying teachers poorly, offering them no career ladder, and subjecting new entrants and old timers alike to the pressures and demands of local politicians, many countries have ended up with teachers who are not the best and brightest of every generation. Additionally, the working conditions of teaching place high demands on teachers for which they are poorly prepared and hence decreases their sense of efficacy and self-esteem. This, of course, affects teachers’ levels of motivation, their desire to continue with in-service education, with their mentoring role, and their willingness to cope with difficult situations in their teaching career, ultimately abandoning the field.” (“Where Are 60 Million Teachers?”)

Thoughts and comments are encouraged! I posted this quote to start a conversation.

Looking Out the Window and Seeing Someone Look Back

As if teaching and working on a start-up was not demanding enough, I’m currently taking an online course through the Johns Hopkins School of Education on Introduction to Global Urban Education. Anyone who knows me should know how exciting a course like this would make me, as it combines my passions of international comparative education and urban education. Our first assignment was very creative and allowed me to sit and think about the frightening dichotomies that are abundant in Miami. We had to write about what we see when we look outside our window. So I decided to write a piece on the differences between the window of my home in Miami Beach and the window of my classroom in Liberty City. After I had written, one of the professors, and a founder of Teachers Without Borders, for the course had actually taken the time to read my response and reply to it, and I wanted to include both here on my blog.

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Contrasts in Miami Windows

Windows in Miami are huge. They are the bay windows that span the length of an entire wall of a room. Wait…Correction. Windows in Miami are huge and beautiful and long only if you live where there is no need to put bars on your window for fear of a stray bullet or passing burglar. 

 

My life in Miami is a life of contrasts. Looking out my windows–the window of my apartment and the window of my schoolroom–do not escape that dichotomy. Looking out the window of my 4th floor apartment condo on Miami Beach, I see gorgeous palm trees, an Olympic size swimming pool, the high rises of Mid Beach and South Beach, and I know on the other side of them, just a two blocks walk for me, is the Atlantic Ocean. It’s beautiful. Backed by painted white clouds and a blue in the sky that you could stare at for days. 

 

But then again, Miami is a city of contrats. It’s a city where you can be in the most glamorous and glitzy part of America one second and 15 minutes later be in one of the roughest neighborhoods this side of the Mason Dixon Line. Where you can go to work in Downtown while crossing a bridge that goes over the once historic and flurousing but now depleted Overtown. Then there’s the causeway. The causeway crosses the bay and links the world of Miami Beach to the mainland just across the JFK Causeway that welcomes you with early morning prostitutes and garbage everywhere. Abandoned buildings and businesses to make you feel as though you are going where no one else wants to be and where those who were there flee. And what do I see outside my classrom window? I see part of the other side of the building–aged cream streaked with years of not being washed, resembling that of a state penitentiary from the tall spiked gates in the front to the herding of children into particular spots. I see the isolated road where policemenet patrol to make sure that no danger comes inside the school. And it does. Code Red is not a drill out there, and as I look at that window I know that danger lies rampant in the community. Others have written of hope, but this is a place where my students tell me they don’t believe they can make it out of. So this is a place that when you look out the window you really have to practice growing roses from concrete. And then I see it. The community garden others have planted out back, and I remember. Roses from concretes is just what we do here as teachers who live the contrasts each day, crossing the causeways between two worlds, trying to find out exactly where our place is within our community of work. 

Professor’s Response

Jane Goodall’s passion is her youth group, “Roots and Shoots.”  The name evokes green breaking through concrete.  She is often dismissed as the chimp lady, the one way out there on the margins, the “environmentalist.”  I know Jane, however, well.  We’ve written to each other, traveled with each other, talked at length.  And while she is capable of leveraging her name, she stays in the background and nurtures those plants (teachers like you) who nurture other plants (children) in contexts like yours.  One cannot help but come off as naive here.  No Hallmark card response to your clear, compelling, code-red description can ever ameliorate, no less fix, the kind of intractable problems of which you speak.  I have seen much, in my time, too much to think that our role (as individuals) can make a dramatic difference.

And yet, I prefer to wrestle with these demons (political, social, economic, class) that demoralize human beings, because I could not live with myself if I simply made peace with it.  It’s all there in Miami (I have family there).  Forgive me for my rambling (and somewhat unhelpful) response to your post, Odelia, but I suspect that you (and your other wonderful new colleagues in this course) don’t expect to get answers (at least for now).  Our intention is to build a durable, diverse, gracious, bright community of scholar practitioners, online, as warm as any class, and the only way to do so is through looking out from where we are and assembling, together, a framework (a window-sill, perhaps 🙂 by which we can make change.

In doing so, we must tell the truths – even when we’re exasperated and angry by what we see…calling it out.  It’s bad out there, often.  No sugar-coating… or, as you so aptly put it:  “Code Red is not a drill out there.”  I know, too, that the Odelias of the world are rose planters.  All the more reason that it’s an honor to have you in this course. 

“One Thing Remains”

On and on it goes. For it overwhelms and satisfies my soul. And I never ever have to be afraid. Because one thing remains: Your love never fails. It never gives up. It never runs out on me.

 

Every year there’s a song or a group of words that really get me through longer journeys or times that require some added strength, patience, and wisdom. That song became my song at the end of 2012 and I have carried it over to 2013: “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture. I wanted to share this song because no matter what you believe in life there are the people in your life who help you to not be afraid. They are the ones who you feel safe in their hands and showered in the blessings their love provides. They are the people who lend you their strength when you honestly do not know where to begin picking yourself up. It’s the love that always remains after everything else in your plans have fallen apart. The love that never fails, never gives up, and never runs out on you. Sometimes I use the song to remind myself of the kind of strength I need for my students when they want to call it quits. I know how grateful I am for my two biggest sources of the love that always remains: God and my parents. And as 2013 barrels on as February will fade into March, I remind myself that fear is unnecessary in the face of such love.

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Connections from Across the Atlantic

There are those weeks that seem that they will last forever. The ones where the work seems to pile up faster than I can get rid of it, and the students seem ready for the extended weekend ahead already. Sometimes it threatens to slump you into the motions of what you do day to day, but there’s always that moment that jolts you back to reality. That incident or situation that reminds you of the urgency of your work and the special place being an educator does give me privy too, even if it means exposing ourselves to the cruel and sometimes utterly crushing world around the confines of our cement plastered school buildings.

Today was one of those moments. In the usual task of ending one class and beginning another, I asked the simple question to one student about why they were late for class. As the scene unfolded in front of me of tears and heartache and fear, I was caught up in a whirlwind of my student’s life. With each word getting angry and bombarded with sadness all at once. Why can’t children just grow up as children? Free of care and of hurt and of want? Instead of stray bullets, drug games, and angry ex-boyfriends. Even though as their teacher, I do not live it, I still take it in to my own degree. A close teacher friend of mine describes the after-effect as her heart going numb, causing an inability to think straight sometimes about the matter. And as my carpool buddy and I drove my student home to make sure she got home safe and locked the doors, I flashed back to a poem that weighed heavily upon my heart yet also moved me to work more diligently at the work I was doing in Ghana. One of the vocabulary words from this weeks class readings is “interrelatedness,” pertaining to the connection every community has to another around the world. The elements of life and its hardships and nuances and strength are different in Adenta, Ghana as they are in Liberty City, Miami, yet when I re-read this poem, I can’t help but think that the sentiments are similarly the same:

God’s Children

Their dark skins like velvet glow in the sun

While their smiling faces turn to face me

Their beauty transcends their surroundings.

 

And I am forever changed by

the way they look at me.

 

But most of all I am struck

by the eagerness of their souls,

while they hold on to every

word I say to them like the

last drop of sweet, sweet water.

 

But then—

 

Here on Earth such beauty is ethereal

It buys you broken chalkboards,

No bathroom,

A rectangular grass plot for play,

And cement block classrooms.

Nothing lasting, nothing special,

And nothing equal to the worth of these children.

 

O God be with your children now.

 

Let them know that the last shall be first

That You are the God of the brokenhearted

And that You never left this land.

But most of all,

Let them know it may seem like

they are forgotten now—

Mere shadows on this earthly home–

But they are never forgotten in Your Kingdom.